The Gorai Machhimar Sahakari Sanstha is an association of fishermen from Village Gorai, Borivali, Mumbai. Assisted by the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement (NAPM), they have been waging struggles with every wrongdoing. Dependent solely on sea for their survival members of the association are completely different from their counterparts in other co-operative movements in urban Mumbai. Dressed in local attire ostensibly they appear dissimilar than their fellow countrymen. But their recent action catapults them ahead of most of us. For last 16 years they are fighting for a government land admeasuring 750 acres not for themselves but for their “beloved” Government of Maharashtra. The Government of Maharashtra on the other hand is not only indifferent to their struggle but has joined hands with the land grabbers for the ‘money power’ they wield.
It all started in 1998 when the 750 acres allegedly ‘private land’ was purchased by the Essel Infrastructures in a public auction for Rs 25 lakh i.e. 8 paise per square feet. When Essel went for changing the land records in their name, the revenue authorities realized that it is a government land and the change in name cannot be done. Essel raised a dispute which reached the Commissioner, Kokan Division, who too held that it is a government land and Essel cannot hold it. However, Narayan Rane, then Revenue Minister, in an appeal before him granted the land to Essel — this time of course free of cost.
When fishermen of Gorai came to know about this, they raised a dispute before the High Court through public interest litigation (PIL). Their contention was that the land in question is full of mangroves, a breeding ground for fish, environmentally precious and must be left in its virgin form under environmental considerations. The High Court held the contentions of fishermen as correct and reverted the land back to the Government of Maharashtra. Essel (assisted by the government) went to the Supreme Court. Fishermen, who had never seen Delhi, too went there to cross swords with the mighty Essel. The matter dragged on till 2013.
Here came a twist to the story. Essel approached Gorai Machhimar’s erstwhile Chairman one Noel Kini who was removed from the post six months earlier with an offer to make a settlement. Kini was lured into signing consent terms with Essel for payment of Rs 2 crore to the Machhimar Sanstha, Rs. 2 crore to Holy Maggy Church which is recorded in the consent terms. What is not recorded in the consent terms is another Rs 2 crores in cash, which also is paid to Machhimar Sanstha.
The honest fisherfolks of Gorai are now back in Delhi before the Supreme Court with a plea to Court to accept this Rs 6 crore bounty, which includes Rs 2 crore in cash and allow their original prayer amounting to the ‘land be given back to the government.’
“We don’t want this money as it will be a sin to accept it”, says Alex Aitolya, present chairman of the Machhimar Sanstha. “Neither Essel nor anybody can bribe us”, says Joseph Colasco, a board member of Machhimar Sanstha. “The 750 acres land is valuable for environment and we shall not let it go”, says Neville D’Souza, an activist of the Machhimar Sanstha.
In the meantime, Essel is busy cutting mangroves, have already cleared a 15 acre stretch from the land. A first information report (FIR) has been filed against Essel by Union environment ministry. The struggle goes on.
*National Alliance of People’s Movements